The Roys have always been easy to read. Like all people with power, money, access, and privilege, they want to hang onto that power, money, access, and privilege. Whether they have any guiding moral truisms, tenets, or beliefs past “maintain the status quo, and our role within it” is hard to say—and often irrelevant. The politics they push on Waystar Royco maintain their popularity and please their shareholders. The cynicism and nihilism with which they approach every situation maintains their aloofness and perceived superiority.
The only true believer in Republican ideology for what it actually stands for might be Connor, and note how his political aspirations are met with mocking and sarcasm by his siblings and even his father. Why would you want to be a politician, someone who works for people? The real move is to be the person pulling the politician’s strings, and that’s always who the Roys have been—made explicitly clear by “What It Takes,” the sixth episode of this third season of Succession and one of the series’ absolute best.
What an absolute tornado of an hour, full of the pointedly cruel, quiveringly pathetic, and amusingly melodramatic stuff that makes Succession great. For all the time we spend in Virginia at the secret weekend where powerful Republican influencers and donors get together to decide who they’re going to throw their weight behind in the next presidential race, what gives “What It Takes” its whiplash-inducing narrative speed is all the stuff that happens offscreen.
Kendall just fires Lisa after she rightfully calls him out for overplaying his hand to the government! Logan is definitely sleeping with Kerry, only weeks after having sworn to Marcia that he’d stop being so inattentive and indiscreet! (I know that Marcia secured her bag, and good for her, but why are you going to embarrass her like this again, Logan?!) Greg gets a new lawyer who is already advising him about suing Greenpeace! Shiv accepts that Tom is going to prison, and it has made her husband such a nonplayer in her mind that she doesn’t even seem to notice when he disappears to have a gigantic breakfast spread at a nearby diner with her backstabbing brother!
All of this is in line with who these people are—selfish, self-obsessed, self-absorbed. And what “What It Takes” does so well is remind us of how this ensconced toxicity spreads outward, how it enacts and enables, in all ways big and small. The greatest danger in Succession is to believe in anything; this show treats that extension of self as a kind of weakness. Kendall believes in his own martyrdom and trips over his own dick. Shiv believes in the American republic and gets laughed at. Connor believes in himself and gets shuffled offstage. The only truly powerful people right now are Logan and Roman, the latter reshaping himself fully in the former’s image, because they care about nothing past themselves.
“I always found it hard to care about politics,” Roman says, because his life is utterly unaffected by it; “I don’t care about the resume or ideological purity, as long as they get it and they pop,” Logan says. When you’re that rich, what does it matter who the president is? Remember “No amount of antibacterial gel is gonna be able to wipe the America off me”? This is all a game, and the only thing Roman, acting as Logan’s shadow, wants to do is win. And, frankly, he is. Roman is firmly now Daddy’s No. 1 Boy, giggling over memes with Logan and giggling in bathrooms with the most appalling Republican candidate, the one who spells his first name Jeryd because of course he does.
The only person who seems really even close to the Logan/Roman untouchability is Tom, and for an oppositional reason. They have everything to lose and he has nothing, and if we all remember our Fight Club training, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” Tom truly believes he’s going to prison, and he truly believes that Shiv is preparing to leave him (because how dare she use birth control!), and he truly believes that Greg is on an upward swing that leaves his onetime mentee/abusee behind, and yet—and yet—he still doesn’t throw his lot in with Kendall. Matthew Macfadyen is a phenomenal actor who has consistently done amazing work on this series (just recently, with the pitch-perfect line delivery of “I’d castrate and marry you in a heartbeat”!), but his work against Jeremy Strong is next-level stuff.
Macfadyen is a deeply empathetic mix of resigned and curious, resentful and dismissive, polite and aggressive, and his conversation with Strong is like a tennis match, with Kendall trying to whip aces past Tom and Tom lobbing back every single one. Tom might often seem like a bumbling fly on the wall, all bluster and acquiescence, but I truly do not think he is an idiot. He understands power, and he understands that Kendall doesn’t have any. Macfadyen’s pitying tone when he tells Kendall, “Do you know what they’re doing up in his suite? They’re picking the next president,” is melancholy, morose, and exceptional. Maybe Tom abandons the family, but he’s not going to do it by joining Kendall. Kendall is a broken man, and Tom isn’t broken yet. He’s hopeless, but he’s not helpless.
“What It Takes” begins after the triumph of the Roys maintaining control of their company, coming to terms with Stewy, Sandy, and Sandi, and avoiding a vote at the recent shareholder meeting. Interestingly, although Gerri, Karl, and Frank were all pivotal at the shareholder meeting, none of them is in attendance in this episode, which begins with the Roy family en route to Virginia and the Future Freedom Summit. The reshuffled family dynamics remain here: Roman is closer to Logan, Shiv is on the outside, Logan is being kinder to Tom, and Connor is still low-key threatening everyone.
The Roys are waltzing into Virginia with the sense that they’re king breakers (President Raisin is definitively on the way out) and with the mission of being king makers. Alongside the White House’s Michelle Anne and Republican operative and donor Ron Pectis (the ever-delightful Stephen Root), the Roys arrive to figure out who ATN is going to support in the six months to the presidential election. (Interesting that this timeline situates us in May, because both Kerry and Shiv are dressing more like it’s autumn.) The Roys are still going after President Raisin so that he potentially eases up on the investigation into Waystar Royco, but, unsurprisingly, there’s infighting between the family about which Republican wannabe should get their shine.
The three frontrunners are the ineffectual (and boring) Vice President Dave Boyer (Reed Birney), policy-focused (and seemingly middle-of-the-road, and therefore hype-lacking) Senator Rick Salgado (Yul Vasquez), and Proud Boy-adjacent fringe asshole Jeryd Mencken (Justin Kirk), who whips the base into a frenzy with his endlessly aggressive, totally empty stances. Connor sees an opportunity to put himself forward, but let’s be real, that’s not going to happen. (“In a room full of Timothy McVeighs, does Connor suddenly look like a Roosevelt?” Unfortunately, no, and I guess this means Connor didn’t actually get that European job?)
Boyer, who licks his lips a little too often, is out as soon as Logan mocks him to assistant-turned-lover Kerry. Salgado tells Shiv that if she helps him become president, he’ll send Logan to jail so she can be in charge—and Shiv is down with it, but no one else is interested by Salgado as a candidate. Instead, it becomes clear that Mencken, with what Shiv calls his “It’s all red pill, baby” ideology, is going to be the guy. Was there really any other way this could go? There was not.
It doesn’t matter that Mencken mocks Logan and disrespects ATN; he certainly changes his tune once he realizes ATN is on the hunt for a candidate. What does matter is how quickly Mencken and Roman vibe, and I’ll be honest: It was too sexual! I was almost uncomfortable! Has Roman ever been as flirtatious, coy, and coquettish as when he was talking to Mencken? Kieran Culkin’s full-court-press charm offensive as Roman was less direct than he is with Gerri, but it was more alluring: all winks and puckered lips and genuine smirks. I truly thought that Roman and Jeryd were going to kiss, and I’m sure someone is already writing that fan fiction. They’re just “a couple of cool guys having some disgusting fun,” and it didn’t take long for Logan to be convinced, did it?
“Climate said I was going down. Climate said I should just step aside. I guess I’m a climate denier,” Logan says before going off to bed with Kerry, and the next morning, when Shiv claims she won’t be in the family picture with Mencken, he wears her down with just one line. “Are you part of this family or not?” he asks, and honestly, Shiv, what are you doing? You think standing three people away from Mencken is a victory? “You win, Pinky. You win,” Logan says, and that’s such a snapshot into how this father shares power with his children: barely.
That seems like a natural transition to discussing Kendall, doesn’t it? My man is losing it! He pisses off Lisa first by not taking their practice questioning seriously (“I approved the illegal payments because I love sexual assault and I love to cover it up. Is that bad? … I’m not saying that, I’m saying what you think I think, right?”) and insulting her, then gets offended by Lisa’s warning that the papers he’s provided “lack some of the explosiveness it was suggested they might have.” Does the fact that Mommy Caroline is getting married without telling him rattle Kendall enough (“Ken bores the shit out of Mom”) that he fails the sit-down with the U.S. government? Or did he blow it on purpose? I think there’s a little of both affecting Kendall’s actions, and when Lisa calls him out on acting “high-handed and defensive … wildly overfamiliar and glib,” he can’t handle it. Bye to Lisa, and hello, potentially, to Tom.
But Kendall, for all his attempts at being a righteous leader, is not a coalition builder. He basically offers Tom nothing in exchange for his cooperation, and while Kendall thinks he’s being a martyr, Tom actually is. He offered himself up to Logan. He agrees to take on some of Greg’s crimes: “Load me up, you piece of shit.” He is curious about how a toilet can be a bastard! (So am I!) And consider how Kendall and Tom both act during and after their sit-down: Kendall insults Tom and his marriage to Shiv, he calls him a “country mouse,” and then takes a picture of him as blackmail. Kendall’s desperation is getting real bad, and I’m going to go ahead and call Tom right-on with this analysis: “My hunch is that you are going to get fucked. Because I’ve seen you get fucked a lot. And I’ve never seen Logan get fucked once.”
Couple that line with what Shiv said earlier: “Nothing’s more dangerous than a second-rate individual who sees his chance.” The problem, of course, is that Shiv’s statement could apply to any of the kids. What will Kendall do? What will Roman do? What will Connor do? What will Shiv herself do? And what will Tom—always silently sitting, watching, and waiting—what will Tom do? Can’t let all that cake batter go to waste.
- A drinking game that would kill you: How often Shiv and Kendall say “Uh-huh” in an emulation of Daddy Logan.
- This season certainly has loved its guest stars, hasn’t it? We got Adrien Brody for an episode, Stephen Root and Yul Vasquez (hot with his all-white hair) for an episode, and Alexander Skarsgård for an episode next week. (I am assuming Justin Kirk sticks around for longer.) All these familiar faces are fun, but it would’ve been nice to have more of Hiam Abbass and Arian Moayed, who are no longer series regulars. And Sanaa Lathan is now just gone? Goddammit, Kendall!
- No pre-credits opening scene this episode, and that lack of interruption definitely added to the episode’s propulsive feel.
- “We’re allowing the tune to be played at my dad’s tempo, Lisa, and I’m not sure why!” Imagine Jeremy Strong in Whiplash. The anxiety is too much!
- Shiv’s recurring comeback to Roman is that he wants to have sex with either dad Logan or mom Caroline, and I am begging her to put together some new material. Shiv might be the most uncreative of the Roy children in the competitive-cruelty space.
- This episode wasn’t heavy on the Greg/Tom moments, but it’s difficult to decide which was more perfect: “I like Hamilton” and “Sure you do. We all do,” or “I saw you … flying on the wings of white power. Did it feel good as the fascists hoisted you aloft, like the Stanley Cup?” Both are excellent, per usual.
- Kerry giving Shiv the stink eye across the room while she was chatting with Salgado—the last thing Logan needs is another spy, but it surely seems like she is one. And once again, Shiv seems unable to understand what her father wants or needs: She whines to him about credit for the deal at the shareholder meeting, she tries to convince him to switch parties and support the Democrats, she’s convinced that the news of ex-wife Caroline’s upcoming wedding is going to bother him when it really just makes him laugh, and she disbelieves that he’s sleeping with Kerry until it’s right in front of her face. Shiv might have been Logan’s favorite child once, but their proximity to each other since season two has been nothing but detrimental. “My opinion counts for more”—nope.
- “Maybe I don’t want to donate my body to political science.” I get it, Willa.
- Roman’s ideas for ATN would probably be very popular, which is deeply depressing: “E-girls with fucking guns and Juul pods … Deep State conspiracy hour, but with like, a fucking wink, you know? Funny.”
- Next week: Kendall’s 40th birthday party, with a potential Weimar meets Carthage meets Dante meets AI theme! I don’t actually expect cameos from Zadie Smith and Chuck D, but the “Lukas Matsson” who Kendall hopes will attend is the name of Skarsgård’s character. Get ready!